Friday, May 26, 2017

Skyrim Day 070 - Ill-Met by Moonlight

25 Frostfall, 4E201
Shack Along the River

I normally wake with several matters competing for my attention. Sometimes it is a minor thing, a book to return, an amulet to find. Other times the issue is more pressing: attacks of Dragons, the eminent destruction of Winterhold, and so on. As of late waking up with nothing to do has been a rare luxury.

This morning I thought the luxury of choice was mine, but a courier was waiting in front of Winterhold's Inn, intercepting me as I walked by. He had a letter from the Innkeeper in Riverwood, Delphine, and all it said was that she needed to speak with me urgently. Why was not mentioned and the courier had already gratefully disappeared back inside the Inn, so I was left with this small mystery toying with my curiosity.

With nothing else terribly pressing I started the long walk down to Riverwood. I passed Azura's statue on my way through the pass so that I would avoid Windhelm and trudged along the icy cliffs and valleys.
I watched two Spriggans attack a troll just beyond, the troll getting the better of one Spriggan before falling to the second. The surviving Spriggan then turned on me and quickly joined its comrade-in-arms. Why the two creatures were even in the northern ice lands is a curious thing, for they usually stay close to trees, which the north coast of Skyrim completely lacks.

I passed the frozen altar set within the pass between what I consider to be the northern part of Skyrim against the middle part and noticed that the flowers and memorial items set around the skeleton had still not moved despite the constant wind rushing through. Closer examination revealed that the entire altar and everything touching it was frozen fast, a clever solution to a common problem.

Just outside was the remains of a grisly-looking battle: five dead soldiers, some Imperial Legion, some Stormcloak, and one survivor equipped like a high-ranking Imperial Legion officer.
The scene was suspicious, but I probably would have walked by the man had he not betrayed himself in so stupid a fashion. As soon I he saw me he stood, unsheathed the two-handed war-hammer he clearly had no idea how to wield, and told me to relinquish my valuables, weapons, and armor. I agreed and tossed my long blade at him, sideways of course, lest he hurt himself catching it.

Faced with getting ignominiously and harmlessly hit with a sword or keeping his war-hammer in hand, he chose the former, as I guessed he would. His satisfied snarl at snatching my sword out of the air was cut quite short by the dagger and the Khajiit holding it. The dagger went clean through his throat. I happily claimed his crossbow and bolts.

The rest of the long walk to Riverwood passed without anything noteworthy happening and I was pleased to reach the town by early afternoon.
Delphine was both alarmed and relieved to see me walk through her door. She immediately rushed up to me, loudly proclaimed my "favorite" room was waiting (she has only one!), and just about dragged me into it. My attempts at protest were hushed and once we were in the room she pressed a hidden button which opened the room's wardrobe, revealing a hidden stairway behind it.

It led to a small basement, sparsely furnished for comfort but boasting a rack of weapons, an enchanting table, and a massive table supporting an equally massive map of the province.
She got right to the point, stating she had heard through her "sources" that the Greybeards had named me Dragonborn and that she hoped they were right, for the situation was heating up. I politely asked what the situation was and instead she replied that she was part of a group that had been looking for the Dragonborn for some time. I thought immediately of the crazy cultists I have been running into on the roads, but she brushed them aside as lunatics.

Continuing to talk, she explained that the Thalmor was on a constant watch for her friends and that she suspected they knew more about the Dragons and, in her opinion, were controlling them to keep the Civil War alive. It was an interesting theory next to my Stormcloak-Dragon alliance one, but hers does sound more likely.

Delphine demanded to know if I was truly the Dragonborn, that is, if I had the ability to absorb a Dragon's soul, which she said is the only way of permanently killing it. If so, she had a task for me. The Dragons, according to her, were not only returning, but coming to life. They had previously been killed ages past by Delphine's predecessors, but this death merely put them into a sort of sleep, I suppose. So they were not returning to Skyrim from elsewhere, they were actually awakening within Skyrim, then flying about torching things to some purpose of their own.

Whatever their reasons, Delphine had been busy trying to discover them. Her giant map showed where the Dragons were said to have been buried after the Dragon War. Most of the sites she revisited were empty of Dragon. Mapping the empty burial sites with the ones that remained, she was confident she knew which burial site a Dragon would arise from next.

That is where I came in.

I was to travel to the burial site and slay the waking Dragon, with Delphine in toe to verify that I was a true Dragonborn. She promised to tell me everything should I meet with her Dragon-slaying expectations.

I asked how she came upon the map of all the burials and she smiled. It was her who was speaking with Farengar when I returned with the Dragonstone, but it was not for him that I retrieved it. Delphine had arranged its retrieval through Farengar to protect her identity, but one now assumes she is known to a circle of trusted associates.

The pattern of wakings started near Riften in the southeast and have been working their way north ever since. According to her research the next Dragon would wake near a town called 'Kynesgrove' just outside of Windhelm, the city I was trying to avoid. I thought it would be best if we traveled separately but Delphine insisted on traveling with me to ensure my safety. Laughable.

So it was another long walk for me, this time from the relative warmth back into the snow and ice. The journey was uneventful except for her constant grumbling about going too slow, but she had not spent all morning walking from Winterhold. By the time we reached the outskirts of Windhelm it was dark, windy, and snowing.
We continued on, but were interrupted by a group of guardsmen rushing for the city's gate from the southern road. Delphine shouted at them over the wind, demanding to know what had them running scared and one stopped long enough to babble about seeing the largest Dragon in Tamriel just outside the city. My thought that the Dragons were working with the Stormcloaks was quickly unraveling.
Indeed, from just outside the gate we could see a flapping black shape in the sky. Delphine yelled that it was time to prove myself, a rather insulting thing to say I think, and we ran through the stinging ice and snow towards the black shape in a rapidly darkening night.

The Dragon was hovering over the top of the hill and we were stuck huddling behind a tree near the bottom. Delphine wanted to charge the Dragon outright, but I convinced her to wait behind some rocks while I sneaked upwards to figure what our plan should be. What I found was something impossible to plan for.
The Dragons were not waking up, they were being woken by the same Dragon that destroyed Helgen. Was it acting on behalf of the Stormcloaks or was it acting on behalf of itself, as Delphine suspected? I could not tell. I heard a rumbling that sounded like it may have been words, but whatever the Dragon was saying, if anything, I could not tell.

Delphine crept up behind me, unbidden, but was smart enough to crouch silently while we watched the Dragon awaken one of its own. The constant rumbling of the Dragon's speech died suddenly and, contrary to my expectations of a Dragon crawling from the earth, a Dragon materialized before us, first bones, then sinew, then flesh and skin.

The larger Dragon flew away, leaving the smaller awakened one on the ground before us. Delphine whispered that she wanted to fight it alone and charged the Dragon from our hiding place.

She accounted well for herself, much better than I had expected and though I was ready to jump in to save her, that proved not to be necessary. She lived up to her predecessors' skills, slaying the Dragon herself with her katana, a design I have not seen in many years now. As I watched her hack the blade into the beast's side, I suddenly realized who she really was.
The corpse burst into flames, Delphine cheekily using the brief conflagration to light a torch. She watched with satisfaction as the Dragon's "soul" was drawn into me, uselessly as I hate to use the "shout" and announced that any questions I had would be answered without hesitation.

She was just as surprised as I had been to find the big Dragon at the other's awakening. She had thought the Dragons were awakening on their own, but now this was no longer the case. I told her that I had seen the black Dragon before at Helgen right before the town was completely destroyed and it frustrated her to be just outside of a mystery she seemed to think she should have solved by now.

Delphine then confirmed my suspicion: she was a member of much-depleted Blades, the organization of Imperial bodyguards and spies that served the Empire before the Thalmor took them apart. How I managed to escape their notice is a wonder. I served Martin Septims alongside the Blades during the Oblivion Crisis and was even a member of the organization a long time ago on Vvardenfell, though I barely have any memory of Morrowind anymore.

But the Blades traditionally served the Septim dynasty, also called 'Dragonborn' under different context. The Emperor after the Oblivion Crisis, Titus Mede, was not of the line and the Blades, from what I remember, served somewhat halfheartedly. I discarded my identity then, disappearing into Skyrim as just another mercenary fallen upon hard times. The Great War raged and took no notice of me, claiming the Blades organization as one of its many causalities.

But one of the few surviving Blades did not speak of this history, referring to the organization as one of Dragon-slayers, not servitude. They had waited for the 'Dragonborn' to arise again in order to serve, but much like their origins, these Blades were confused. I was not the 'Dragonborn' of the Septim dynasty, I was only 'Dragonborn' so far as Skyrim's legend of that Dragon-slaying warrior was concerned. The two were very different otherwise!

Based on her own theory of alliances in Skyrim she felt striking at the Thalmor would see some of her questions answered. Her reasoning was simple: the Civil War was basically over, the Empire had captured Ulfric, then a Dragon arrives, destroys the Imperial town of Helgen, Ulfic escapes, and the war continues. I pointed out that line of thought also supported my idea of the Stormcloaks allying with a Dragon, but she dismissed that due to the Stormcloaks meager resources.

Delphine's plan was audacious in scope: she proposed an attack upon the Thalmor Embassy, the seat of power for the Thalmor operating in Skyrim. How we were to successfully storm the place was something she had not yet thought of, but she assured me that a plan would be coming within the next couple of days.

I cannot say I am eagerly anticipating it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Skyrim Day 069 - Word Travels Fast

24 Frostfall, 4E201
Winterhold College

For all it took to find her book, Jami was not particularly pleased to receive it. Granted, that may be due to my showing up at her home at breakfast, but I have other responsibilities than finding lost tomes. She did extend her gratitude far enough to give me a small booklet of alchemy recipes, some of which I had forgotten over the years.

A distant roar echoed down the mountains and into Morthal as I left Jami's house. The locals, guards included, fled for the nearest doorway, but the Dragon was far away and appeared to be more concerned with making circuits around the mountaintop than descending upon the town.
People had begun peeking outside as I passed the last building on my way out. The famed 'Dragon War' of the Mythic Era is not restarting, it seems. The tablets I read on the way up to the Greybeards spoke of battles in which thousands died fighting against the Dragons. Now one Dragon is sighted miles away and everyone runs away.

I still question the wisdom of the Stormcloaks in allying themselves with the Dragons, as the creatures do not appear to be interested in aiding them in any way that I have seen. For their own part the Stormcloaks are just as willing as the Legion to sit and wait for the other side to do something and the Dragons have not changed this relationship.

But no one else looked eager to climb the mountain only to die in a fiery blaze, so that was left to me alone. The creature's roars continued to echo down the mountain as I trudged through the ice and snow to the base of the hill, only to find that the mountainside rose almost directly vertical, making it impossible to ascend without finding a prepared path of some sort. So with a Dragon spiraling overhead, I worked my way around the base of the mountain in search of a path of some kind.

I did not have to search long. For as long as they have been under Imperial rule, the Nords still have not shaken their habit of worshiping outside. Whether out of preference or a desire for privacy most of their shrines are built near or on the mountains and naturally they would want an easy way to reach their Divines.

This particular shrine was to Dibella and maintained by someone, as there were fresh flowers adorning the altar. I deigned to receive her blessing for I am quite certain it would be quite useless for me. The Dragon, not a lover, awaited me further up the mountain. Fortunately, the path to the altar continued to a destination I should have thought of earlier.

Whatever motivates a Dragon this one was motivated to simply fly around in circles above my head, roaring frequently and taking no notice of anything or anyone scampering underneath it. I scared a small family of goats as I scurried from rock to rock to remain unnoticed and I feared the animals would alert the Dragon to my presence, but it truly had no interest in what was happening around it.
I finally reached the top of the hillside to find myself looking down at another wall of ancient words, one I visited some time ago, though I cannot remember exactly when. The Dragon completed another circuit around the area, then settled down atop the monument, seemingly content to perch and survery the area around it.
Out of curiosity I had taken a bow from one of the Forsworn a few days ago, wondering at how effective such a poor-looking weapon could be. I found that the appearance was quite deceiving: the wood and sinew used was nearly unbreakable and took a terrific amount of effort to pull back. It was like trying to pull back a crossbow without a winch or belthook.

I had managed one wildly inaccurate shot when I found it and figured an arrow whizzing by its head would serve as a good challenge for the Dragon. After a few moments of straining and grunting (a wonder my exertions were not heard!) I had an arrow pointing somewhat in the direction of the Dragon, the arrowhead wavering and dancing with the strain of keeping the bow pulled.

I let it go, sending the arrow shooting forwards, the bowstring nearly shaving the fur off of my left arm. The Dragon started and looked right at me, noticing me at last. I did not see where the arrow ended up, possibly somewhere in High Rock. I then lost my grip on the weapon, sending it clattering down the hillside. If the arrow had not alerted the Dragon my bow's descent certainly would have.

Now it was one Khajiit with a wooden shield, Ebony long blade, Ebony dagger, and a useless repertoire of Illusion magicka against an angry, territorial Dragon.

My experience with Dragons so far is that they are arrogant and are easily riled to a challenge. It was a bad sign that my only hope of survival was to unsheathe my sword and entice the Dragon into melee combat.

It worked, but not exactly to my relief.
The Dragon's tail was different than the others I have seen. This one had fins on the end of its tail, forming a sort of fan. The wings were the same though, as was the head.

It crashed onto the ground in front of me, glowering and shaking its head back and forth. Perhaps it was challenging me? I do not know. Sometimes I think I can hear them speak, other times they appear no wiser than a common animal. This one was not wise and died unceremoniously to a blade through the eye. Being the Dragonborn is a brutal business.
I continued to Winterhold with only a single troll as further disruption. A Dunmer calling himself 'Malur' approached me in front of the Inn hoping to hire someone to steal a staff from the College. The irony of asking the acting Archmage to do this thing went nicely with the implied insult that Khajiit love to thieve and steal. I stopped inside Birna's shop, but she had little of interest to me.

I told Tolfdir of the magicka globe I had fought off a few days ago and he was pleased to hear that the "Jarl's disturbance" had been taken care of. I was not aware a complaint had even been lodged against the thing, I do not think a courier would have cost the College too much coin. Despite the poor communication the problem was solved in the end and Tolfdir parceled out the Jarl's payment, some for the College, some for myself. It was an odd exchange.

The Dragons continue to be a puzzlement for me. I am told I am Dragonborn, just as I was Nerevarine, both constructed falsehoods, of course, but being the Nerevarine meant working towards something. The Dragons act more aloof than violent and do not seem to be aiding the Stormcloaks as I thought they would be. Are they conserving their strength or am I misunderstanding the situation? The Civil War is ongoing, but going nowhere.

At least this night will be spent comfortably as I ponder all of this.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Skyrim Day 068 - A Collection of Crazy

23 Frostfall, 4E201

This morning was a rare one for me: I had nothing pressing to attend to. I woke early, alone in my massive house and had a leisurely breakfast while contemplating my next move. I had Isran's Dawnguard to visit again, news to deliver to Winterhold College, and various small tasks I accepted months ago before my life became somewhat exciting again. I still had a lot to do, but none of it seemed important this morning. With a light step I left my home and walked into a disaster.
The crazy old man who had waved some poor creature's pelvic bone in my face awhile back had returned to my doorstep wielding another bone and rambling about his 'master' being lost. I tried to walk past him, but he followed me, bleating incessantly about his lost master. Guessing that he would follow me all the way to Winterhold College I turned to him and asked what he expected of me.

It was to enter the Blue Palace and sneak into an abandoned wing of the castle where his master was having tea with another gentleman. The very nature of that meant the wing was not, in fact, abandoned, but the poor man wound up being correct, as events would show. Wishing me luck he pushed the bone he was carrying into my hands and skipped off towards the city gate. It was a very odd exchange.

Despite the early hour the doors of the Blue Palace were open to visitors and I ran into the Steward on my way in. We talked for a bit, things around Solitude are quiet for the moment, and I ordered some enchanting equipment for my home. He asked what brought me back to Solitude and I told him of my previous encounter with the crazy man and the continuation of it this morning. Falk was puzzled as to why the man thought I needed to enter the abandoned wing, but trusted me enough to lend me the key for it.
The place was a ruin, furniture was strewn all over and hopeful cobwebs were stretched between every available surface. A small fortune in silver plates and goblets were enticingly left out in the open, but I suspect I would be found leaving with a dozen of each stuffed in my pack and no acceptable reason for it.

I continued to explore the place, but it was clear no one had been there in a very long time. Wherever the beggar's "master" had gone, it was not to this place.

Or so I thought.

One moment I was walking down a dusty hallway pulling cobwebs off of my fur and the next found me in a field, damp with a cold fog that hindered my effort to figure out just what had happened.
Some of the fog cleared, revealing a long table set for many people, but only two were present: a sullen, hunched man sitting opposite his gregarious and very colorfully-dressed dinner partner. They were discussing something, the colorful man animatedly, the sullen man with barely a mumble. 
As I approached the first stood up and the second disappeared in a flash of purple light. Nothing about any of it suggested something good, but I felt I was going to get nowhere unless I played the part I was beginning to suspect I had been set up for. The remaining man complained to me that Pelagius was being very rude and refusing to host him for dinner...for a decade or two. I had no idea what was going on, but suspected that the colorful man was the "master" the beggar had been looking for.

When he asked my business I replied that a servant of his was looking for him to return from wherever we were then. He laughed and asked how I expected to make him, Sheogorath, Daedric Prince of Madness, leave the mind of Pelagius the Third, where all three of us were stuck...or at least Pelagius and I were.

I could have been more surprised, but I find my mind has aged far quicker than the rest of me and I thought only of what task the Skooma Cat would ask of me before he would let me leave. It is the nature of the Princes to watch us scurry and no Prince is happier than when one is scurrying under his direction. That is how I feel, at least.

True to my belief, Sheogorath promised to leave, but only if I could find the way out. This did not appear difficult, there were three archways away from the dining table, one surely would be the way out of Pelagius's mind, though why I was in it to begin with is a mystery I never quite solved today.

To aid me in my desperate quest the Skooma Cat gave me a staff he called the 'Wabbajack' or something like that. Armed with a staff topped by three screaming heads I set off underneath one of the archways.

Sheogorath continued to talk as I walked away. Pelagius, according to him, had no easy home life. His mother apparently murdered people without provocation and Pelagius grew to be a fearful, paranoid King. If I remember my history correctly he died at an asylum, completely insane.

I took the story as mere rambling and came to a small arena where Pelagius was watching two Storm Atronachs fight each other while under the protection of two bodyguards.
Pelagius was unresponsive, but I found that using the staff on one of the Atronachs would turn it from Storm to Fire to Ice, then back to Storm. I thought I needed to only change "my" Atronach to defeat the other, but it would change along with mine, resulting in a battle with no end. I was at a loss, but then thought to use the staff on no result.

The final words of Sheogorath's story was that Pelaguis grew to expect danger at any time from anyone and I realized this was a hint of sorts, intentional or not. I used the staff on one of his bodyguards and the man changed into a wolf, attacking Pelagius immediately. The Atronachs, the mad King, and the wolf disappeared and the Daedric Prince congratulated me on completing the puzzle.

So that was it then: The remaining two archways led to clearings as well, each with some aspect of Pelagius's fears or desires manifested in a physical way. Solving the other two puzzles required the use of the "Wabbajack", which had different results on different things at different times. I solved the other two puzzles after some trial and error.

Triumphant, I returned to Sheogorath and announced my success at calming the spirit of Pelagius's mind. He conceded his "defeat" readily and told me I was free to leave. I was about to ask him how to, exactly, when the beggar of Solitude suddenly appeared before us.
He was overjoyed to be reunited with Sheogorath again, but I cannot understand why. Perhaps it was a similar relationship as Barbas had with Clavicus Vile. No matter to me. They talked for a bit, then I found myself back in the Blue Palace with not a warning, still holding the "Wabbajack", which I suppose is my reward for curing a mind I did not know existed. A weapon so unpredictable as Sheogorath's staff is not one I want to be carrying around with me though.

It had been morning when I entered the Blue Palace, but it was evening by the time I left. I thought I had time to walk to Morthal to return a book I promised Jami a long time ago and left Solitude as the sky began to grow dark.
I came upon a trio of Dragon cultists on the road, but managed to sneak by them in the dark. Arriving at Morthal I took a room at the Inn, then spent a few minutes talking to the others in the common room. The Jarl's housecarl, Gorm, appeared distraught, but opened up to me before I even had the chance to ask him what was wrong.

He fears the Jarl is losing her sanity and asked me to deliver a sealed letter to the the Captain of the Imperial Legion stationed in Solitude, Captain Aldis. I am expected not to open the letter, of course, but I am not curious about the workings of Skyrim's politics anyway. I will give Jami her book tomorrow, deliver this letter, then see what next should be done.